Since Christ has purchased a people for Himself from every tribe and tongue (Rev. 5:9–10), it is a gross sin for the visible church to bar those who confess belief in the biblical Christ from fellowship in a local congregation. In the past, some congregations were tempted to engage in such sin by barring Christians of certain ethnicities from membership or leadership in a denomination or other church body. Such may still occur in some places, but we are probably more apt today to convey silently that certain tribes and tongues are not welcome by our attitudes and actions. What may even be more common is an unspoken belief that certain nationalities are beyond the reach of God’s grace. It can be far easier, for example, to believe that God has no people in terrorism-sponsoring nations than it is to go to these nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is most unfortunate because our conviction that the church is catholic — universal — tells us that no tongue or tribe is beyond God’s grace. The Lord has not reserved salvation for one nation but has purposed to save people from every background. Men and women from all nations will worship God, even those nations that today seem the most resistant to His gospel (Ps. 86:8–10).
The notion of a catholic church is consistent with Reformed theology and the doctrines of grace. It is no accident that a Reformed standard such as the Heidelberg Catechism includes the conviction that God has chosen a community for eternal life in its statement about the holy catholic church (Q&A 54). Reformed theology gives us an unshakable confidence that the church is universal because the system affirms the biblical truth that the church is rooted in God’s sovereign election of individuals to salvation (Rom. 9). If God has chosen a people for Himself out of every tribe and tongue, this people must come to faith, and if this universal people must come to faith, a catholic church is guaranteed.
John Calvin comments on today’s passage that “the salvation of all the elect is not less certain than the power of God is invincible.” As Jesus explains in John 10:27–30, the Father has given a people to the Son, and they must come to Him. This people includes those from every nationality, resulting in a catholic church.
Today’s passage is clear that no one can snatch God’s people out of His hand. There is no doubt that the elect will be redeemed, and if there is no doubt that the elect include people from every tribe and tongue, the true church is certain to be catholic. God has His people in every nation, which is why we must send missionaries or go ourselves to every nation and preach the gospel. His grace knows no national or ethnic boundaries.